Panda Previews: My Neighbour Totoro at the Barbican

Every day, our Pandas are committed to working together to create real impact. But outside of work, we all have interests that sometimes link with our day jobs – and sometimes not. This is the second post of our content series, Panda Previews, where one of our Pandas reviews a piece of media—be it a documentary, TV show, book, film, or even an art exhibition—to give you a preview into their world and explore why certain media spoke to them. Here’s a truly heartwarming review by our Impact Panda, Janek Seevaratnam…

“Magnificent tree. It’s been around since long ago, back in the time when people and trees used to be friends.”

What a beautiful and simple quote. To me, it evokes those moments of childhood when you’re climbing trees, making a den in a thicket, or running your hand along the bark of a tree trunk, craning your neck back to try and comprehend how impossibly massive it is. The quote also has a tinge of sadness and longs for the simplicity of childhood, particularly trying to get back to a time when it was easier to be connected to and live harmoniously with nature.

And that, for me, is what ‘My Neighbour Totoro’ is about in a nutshell. For a few more weeks, the RSC’s production of the classic Studio Ghibli animation continues its run at the Barbican, and I don’t really know what else to tell you other than to go and see it.

On the surface, it’s a story about two sisters who move to rural Japan with their father to be closer to their mother, who is convalescing in the hospital. The girls get settled into their new life, becoming part of the local community and getting connected to the wonders of nature in a way that they weren’t able to in their Tokyo apartment. The above quote is from their father, who opens their eyes to that sense of wonder and sparks an appreciation for the natural world that leads to some thrilling and magical encounters.

The first half of the show is mind-blowing. I defy the most cynical city dweller to not let a sense of wonderment take over; not to smile as the charms of their new rural home-life bloom right before your eyes through stunning set design; not to drop your jaw as the motion experts and musicians bring the sights and sounds of the forest to life in a way you didn’t think possible in theatre; and not to feel the child-like thrill and marvel when you meet the larger-than-life puppets from the film. No spoilers, but I will never forget meeting Totoro or the Catbus for the first time. Mind-blowing.

The stage adaptation is much more faithful to the film than I would have thought possible, with a peppering of a few little surprises and tweaks for the live audience. After the interval, once the splendour of the initial spectacle has settled, that’s when the beauty of the story kicks in, helping you maintain a strong emotional connection throughout. Again, I couldn’t resist the big, universal feelings that simmer throughout the second half: the fear of having a sick parent; the concern for a sibling in trouble; the regret of having an argument with a loved one. But also the more nebulous feelings of joy, possibility, friendship, and (of course) wonder.

I left the show feeling transformed and reconnected with part of me that I didn’t even know was still there. If that’s not worth the ticket price, I don’t know what is.

Find out more and book tickets here